'Cordial' meeting prompts optimism on school talks
JANESVILLE Tough talk on Wednesday gave way to upbeat comments Friday after representatives of the Janesville School Board and teachers met.
The teachers union on Wednesday issued an ultimatum, saying the union would sue if the school board did not agree to contract negotiations.
Neither side would discuss the particulars of what they discussed Friday, but they appear to have made progress on issues of benefits and teachers’ contracts.
School Board President Bill Sodemann and union President Dave Parr both called Friday’s discussion “cordial.”
Everything’s looking good,” Parr said after Friday’s meeting.
Parr and teachers Tom Buckman, Stacy Glowacki and Jim Reif met with Sodemann and school board Vice President Kevin Murray.
The two sides made good decisions and agreed to talk again Wednesday, Parr said.
The school board, meanwhile, will meet behind closed doors Tuesday to discuss the union’s request for negotiations and “ways to go forward,” Sodemann said.
“I’m encouraged that we have good things happening, so we’ll see what happens next week,” Sodemann said.
Parr had set a deadline of Wednesday for a response to the union’s demand for negotiations.
“If things go as well Wednesday as they did today, then we will postpone any actions that we would take,” Parr said.
Sodemann said both sides agreed that they could negotiate wages, which is allowed under Act 10, the law that ended most other collective bargaining rights for teachers and most other public-sector workers.
Act 10 is scheduled to take effect here July 1 as the contracts for all three of the school district’s unions run out.
Act 10 is under court challenges that have not been resolved, however, which has led to uncertainty locally. The school board has avoided making decisions about employee benefits because the courts have not decided whether or not Act 10 is constitutional.
If the courts throw Act 10 out, then previous law, which allows collective bargaining on benefits and working conditions, would apparently be in force. The board has repeatedly said it can’t make final decisions on benefits until the matter is settled.
Uncertainty was heightened on Wednesday when school officials held meetings for all teachers, telling them they had to sign individual contracts by April 17 or face termination. It appeared those contracts would contain blanks until the board acts on issues of benefits and working conditions.
Parr said at the time that teachers were being asked to sign something without knowing how it would affect their employment. The district countered that any teacher who wanted to resign after signing the contract could do so until June 15. An extension of that date was being considered.
The school board is scheduled to hear a presentation Tuesday in open session on how the teachers were told about the contracts.
Parr said Friday that the two sides might have a “workable solution” to the contract-signing issue.
Sodemann said Friday that it appears the board is getting close to deciding issues of post-retirement benefits and sick days.
On the agenda
The Janesville School Board will hold an informal listening session at 5 p.m. Tuesday, followed by a legislative committee meeting at 6 p.m. and the regular board meeting at 6:30 p.m. All meetings are at the Educational Services Center, 527 S. Franklin St. Agenda items include:
- Discussion and possible approval of post-retirement benefits for employees.
- Discussion and possible approval of the 2013-14 instructional staffing plan.
- Presentation of the annual demographics report.
- A closed session that will include discussion of “possible negotiations” with district employee unions.
The meeting will be shown live on Janesville cable channels 96 and 993 and streamed online at janesville.pegstream.com.